Building Cheap & Quick Prototypes

Gumi & Company
5 min readJan 30, 2023
Building Cheap & Quick Prototypes

The road that leads to building a prototype is not an easy one and this milestone isn’t the end of product development. It can be surmised that at this point, a business idea has been put through a series of challenges that has an entrepreneur confident that they have a business opportunity on their hands.

There are a couple of focus areas that should be clear at this point; like the benefits & competitive advantage of the product or service, target users, production and product delivery. All these are key to creating the perfect environment for building and testing a prototype.

A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process. They are tangible representations of the successive stages of development from initial idea to a fully realized product to evaluate how the product interacts with the real world.

To learn more about how to push an idea to concept, check out our article on the topic here.

Design thinking plays a vital role in refining a prototype into the final product because of its dedication to iteratively determining the sweet spot of great user-product interaction. With an understanding of who the target audience is, the product team can envision how the product will be incorporated into a user’s daily activities and iron out assumptions with regards to the products mobility, texture, aesthetics, frame, etc. that will help the product be a better fit for the user.

So how is a prototype built quickly at an affordable rate?

  1. Have an understanding that there’s nothing like a “perfect” product

This is a stumbling block for most entrepreneurs. Rather than having the needs of the end user in mind during product build, entrepreneurs sometimes get lost in the obsession of delivering the “best” version of a product that skill can provide that they end up putting out a product that nobody wants in the market. Being able to separate the product from the person helps entrepreneurs make concise and data-led decisions that benefit the entirety of the product’s development like breaking product build into phases and adding features according to preference or necessity.

Having regular check-ins to ensure product development still matches the company’s vision helps guarantee resources aren’t being wasted on processes that would have to be changed down the line. Getting regular feedback from communication with potential users helps measure how close the entrepreneur is to providing the product that they want.

2. Get the talent you need on your core team

Outsourcing might not always be the answer when dealing with products that require core skills out of reach for the founder. Being able to fully translate the concept behind a business opportunity to someone who isn’t invested in the success of the product might not necessarily end up successful. The contracted talent might have the talent required for the job but not give the focus needed for the product to be fully translated from your vision to product, because of the other projects they are probably handling at the same time.

Having at least one core team member with the skills necessary to bring a product to life will minimize the resources spent on contracted talent that might leave a founder in a state of continuously hiring talent to solve the same problem.

3. Start with a simple mockup

This is the real first step to the development of a prototype; creating rough sketches of what the product will actually look like. What clay is to a potter is what these mockups are to a founder. Being able to translate a business idea into something tangible will help iron out a founder’s biases about their product, it forces the founder to fill the gaps being covered by imagination.

Creating these mockups and refining them until a preferred version is obtained helps prevent the amount of tweaking that might need to happen during product build because most issues would already be addressed at this phase. At this point, getting feedback will be essential in ensuring the product has a good fit for its intended market and the mockups act as a reference for future development.

4. Create a small-scale version of your offering/MVP

Because mockups aren’t meant to be responsive finished products, developing a product that has all the features and product offerings from it at once is not always a plausible idea. As a founder, developing a prototype with the least amount of investment to test business hypotheses is the goal. From conversations with potential users, highlighting the features most relevant to them will be helpful for testing plausible infrastructure configurations.

The conversations with the potential users has to be very intentional for the learning process to be effective. Having repetitive conversations might be necessary until it is clear that there is no other possible step to take other than what has already been uncovered. For application software, taking advantage of prototyping tools is key.

5. Set the metrics/hypotheses that need to be tested

Setting boundaries for product testing can give the freedom entrepreneurs need to fully exercise/understand a concept being tested. For example, having a fixed small number of users that would be able to use a mobile application at a time can help the product team assess the kind of problems and solutions that would be specific to that product in a controlled environment; in turn giving them the room they need to work on theories that can scale instead of the team starting with trying to test a product that will be used by millions.

It is also important to highlight what success and failure will look like for a prototype to ensure resources are not spent iterating hypotheses that have no plausible way forward.

6. Always test with core users or industry experts

As mentioned, testing with potential users is key to ensuring the product is actually created for its core users. This helps prevent wasting resources on users that don’t give a relevant user journey for product development and involving industry experts can help highlight issues that aren’t obvious to entrepreneurs just venturing into the business. When testing products with users in controlled spaces, it is important to give them the leeway to really understand how the product works to help understand the users experience and highlight pain points with product use.

With all the work being done to push a prototype to a fully developed product, having platforms that keep potential users updated on progress with product development is important in creating the market needed for launch. Having a landing page or social media platforms that fully explain the core message of the business can help with brand awareness and collecting the data required for business decisions.